Hermetic Philosophy

          The Hermetic tradition began as an eclectic grab-bag of Egyptian mythology, neo-Platonic philosophy, Gnostic theology, Hebraic folklore, and Zoroastrian magic, all of which were synthesized in the second to fourth centuries by a group of writers in the eastern Mediterranean. The most important of these writers was the possibly apocryphal Hermes Trismegistus, "thrice-great Hermes".

          Ancient Hermetic magic was intensely mystical in nature, based on the invocation of spirits and the evocation of "godforms". The magus Bonisagus, however, chose to see these as metaphors for natural principles and, after years of research and experimentation, created a set of practical theories which could be used to analyze and control magical workings. These theories became the focus of the modern Order of Hermes.

          Bonisagus divided all magic into fifteen arts, the ten forms and the five techniques. The forms define the essential natural phenomena which magic can manipulate, while the techniques define the essential acts which can be performed. The forms are Animál (animals), Aquam (water), Auram (air), Corpus (body), Herbam (plants), Ignem (fire), Imáginem (image), Mentem (mind), Terram (earth), and Vim (power). The techniques are Creo (creation), Intéllego (perception), Muto (transformation), Perdo (destruction), and Rego (control). All Hermetic spells are defined as a combination of technique and form. [The Latin names are specifically chosen to combine into sentences. The techniques are first person, singular verbs, while the arts are nouns in the accusative case. Thus Creo Ignem means "I create fire." Neat, huh?]

          On a more detailed level, Bonisagus took the first steps to discover and define the Hermetic correspondences, the complex web of symbolic correspondences which associate specific words, gestures, elements, plants, animals, body parts, stars, directions, and attributes with the fifteen arts, connecting the world in a vast web of sympathetic magic. Magi continue to develop and refine the Hermetic correspondences, a task which may take centuries to complete.

          Hermetic practice recognizes three forms of magic. Formulaic magic is the most straightforward. Formulaic spells are intricate combinations of invocations and gestures, often combined with a physical focus to channel or define the magical forces. Though formulaic spells take years of research to develop and months to master, once learned they allow a magus to control powerful forces with relative ease. Most Hermetic research is involved with the development and recording of new formulaic spells.

          Spontaneous magic sacrifices power for versatility and speed. Instead of using the finely controlled structure of a formulaic spell, the magus simply combines a few basic words and gestures appropriate to the arts involved and commands the effect to occur. Though much easier than formulaic magic, spontaneous magic is rarely able to achieve the same levels of power and is infamous for going awry and producing unintentional effects.

          In the opposite direction, ritual magic is the most powerful and refined form of spell-casting. Rituals take hours to perform and generally require rare or exotic foci which are actually consumed in the course of the spell. Rituals are quite rare and take many years to research and develop, usually by the most puissant masters, but offer the opportunity to cast spells of great potency.

          Hermetic philosophy defines its own form of magic as magia, or "true magic". All other forms of magic are either goetia (invocation of malevolent spirits, sorcery, black magic) or theurgia (invocation of beneficent spirits, white magic), both inherently lesser forms of magic.

          Beyond the domain of magic, Hermetic philosophy recognizes three other "realms of power": faerie, divine, and infernal. The domain of faerie is closely attuned to magic, and magic spells often work better in areas of faerie influence (and vice versa). In contrast, both divine and infernal power suppress and weaken the strength of magic. Due to the growing influence wielded by the Church in Europe, divine power is both common and growing. The Dominion, the geographic and metaphysical domain of the divine, is present in every church, every monastery, and every community of true believers.

More Information on the Magical World of A.D. 875:
History of the Order
Hermetic Houses
Hermetic Tribunals
Hermetic Philosophy
Culture and the Oath
Magic Outside the Order
The Order in Caledonia

Return to the Index of Background Files

Caledonia: A Light in the North